Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written long before any of the gospels. His is the first recounting of what this ‘last supper’ was all about. “I receive from the Lord what I also handed on to you..” then Paul describes what Jesus did and said, He took bread, He gave thanks, broke it and handed to his friends saying “this is my body that is for you. Do this is remembrance of me” – and then Jesus takes the cup saying, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Paul explains the meaning of every Eucharist, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”
It’s a bit of a wonder the church doesn’t use the gospel of Matthew and his description of the last supper to round out Paul’s words. Instead we have this surprising action of Jesus and his insistence that He wash the feet of his friends.
The custom of the time was that the host would have his servants make his guests more comfortable by cleansing their feet before they reclined at table for the meal. Hosting this Passover meal, Jesus takes the role of a servant and begins to wash his disciples feet. They are uncomfortable with this – Peter will have none of it, “You will never wash my feet”. Jesus insists, “unless I wash you, you will have no share with me.”
Jesus means this action to be a teaching moment no only for those at table but for all generations to come. “I have set an example for you, that you also should do as I have done for you”. As the host of this Passover meal Jesus, by His example, teaches His disciples and us that we are to be servants one to the other. It was only after this act of humble service that Jesus continued the meal at which He will do us another service, hand Himself over to us as our food and drink, as our nourishment.
Jesus told us, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” When you stop to think of it, we serve in so many ways. The parish family is kept alive by the service of so many people in the different ministries of the parish. Our outreach to Good Shepherd Centre and Development and Peace and the St. Vincent de Paul and NYGH would not be possible but for the willingness of good people to be of service to others. When you come right down to it our lives will be judged on how willing we were to serve others. I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, sick and in prison and you came to me, you were there for me.
As is our custom, instead of washing the feet of a few we will wash the hands of all – as a way to celebrate the service done by the good people of the parish and as a way to challenge us all to imitate as best we can Jesus the Christ, Who came not to be served but to serve and give his life for all of us. Let that be our prayer for each other as we continue this celebration.
When you hands are washed – take the towel and dry the hands of the person following you.